Prince Aly Khan was born into one of the most powerful families in the world. The story of his life is one of luxury, intrigue, scandal, and tragedy. From a wild childhood to a string of high profile affairs with Hollywood stars and royalty, the young rake definitely left a wake of burnt money and bridges behind him.
It's hard to imagine the mind-blowing power that Prince Aly was born into in 1911. His father, the Aga Khan III, was the spiritual leader to millions of people—no biggie at all, right? This mantle is part of a thousand year tradition, and came with a lot of influence, wealth, and lands. As it turns out, such a life comes with perks...and pitfalls.
As the Aga Khan’s son, Prince Aly lived in utter luxury. One of the biggest family holdings was a world class stable of thoroughbred horses, and the Prince spent his youth in luxurious residences all over England, India, and France. In other words, he wanted for nothing. However, for the young prince, it wasn’t all fun and games.
With such an important position, Khan’s father travelled constantly. Meanwhile, his Italian mother spent her days working as an artist and her nights entertaining as a socialite, throwing wild parties. As a result, the poor (metaphorically speaking, of course) young Aly grew up rather lonely. Maybe that explains his unhealthy need for another kind of affection.
Right out of the gate of his adolescence, Prince Aly was a hit with the ladies. Before he was in his mid-twenties, he had a number of high profile conquests, including the debutante Margaret Whigham. His most salacious bedmate, thought, was Thelma, Viscountess Furness, a lover he just so happened to share with the Prince of Wales himself, Edward VIII. And bigger scandals were in his future.
In 1933, the young man found himself head over heels for Joan Yarde-Buller, an English socialite...and the wife of Loel Guinness, heir to the Guinness empire. When Aly first met the beautiful Joan at a dinner party, he was reportedly so taken with her, he leaned over and said, "Darling, will you marry me?" When Joan informed him that she was already married, the prince's response was disturbing.
Instead of saying, "Oops, my bad," Prince Aly took Joan's martial status as a mere challenge. He threw himself into courting her, sending her bouquets of flowers and secret messages until she finally caved and agreed to meet him in a clandestine rendezvous. Well, once Joan was in, she was really in. Before long, they were in a full-on, steamy affair. It did not go well.
Shortly after it began, Thomas Guinness found out what was going on between the Prince and his wife, and he found out in the worst way possible. He had evidence that the two lovers spent three days in a hotel room together. Plus, there was the fact that Joan confessed it all to him and begged him to split up. Ouch. After that, Guinness was out for blood.
Guinness took his bedroom issues to the public courts, filing for divorce from Joan and suing Prince Aly to pay all the costs associated with the high-profile split. The messy socialite drama was front-page news at the time, and it ended in a slam dunk for Guinness. The judge ordered Khan to empty his pockets, and Joan was a free woman at last. Happily ever after, right? Wrong.
Oh, sure, Prince Aly and Joan's new freedom started out well enough. Just a few days after her divorce went through, Yarde-Buller converted to Islam and married Khan in a private ceremony in Paris. But there was a dark side to the nuptials. As Joan Yarde-Buller stood at the altar next to her prince, she was hiding a scandalous secret.
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See, seven months after their wedded bliss, Joan and Prince Aly welcomed a son into the world. Yep, do the math on that "seven months" thing: Throughout her divorce and on her wedding day, Yarde-Buller was pregnant with Khan's child. Well, that probably explains the explosive split and the hasty wedding. But that's not all...
As it turns out, illicit affairs, tabloid divorces, and love children don't make for the best marriages. In actuality, Prince Aly wasn't entirely devoted to his new wife. He later said lukewarmly of his bride, "Joan was a sane and solid girl, and I thought if I married her, I would stay out of trouble". Not exactly a glowing recommendation.
At 26, Khan qualified for a pilot’s license and began to fly his own planes regularly. He also raced horses, cars, and skied. These were not passive hobbies for the Prince, either. Instead, he pushed himself to the limit—so much so that he broke his leg three times on the slopes and almost perished in car races. Maybe it's this daredevil spirit that recommended him for his next job...
During WWII, Khan joined the British Intelligence and served as a spy in the Middle East. His mixed background and position of prestige provided him with the perfect cover. But he had one huge flaw. As his Commanding Officer put it, “The only risk I ran in having him on my team was that he was irresistible to women, could not leave them alone". And, well, he certainly didn't.
The still-married Khan went on another whirlwind bedroom campaign, often romancing three or four different women at a time. His boudoir reputation quickly became international news, and "Prince Aly Khan" turned into a household name in the West. In fact, the film director Orson Welles once referred to him as "the most promiscuous man in Europe". Yet underneath, he was covering up a secret.
In truth, deep insecurity drove Prince Aly's indiscretions—and vengeance. When his Commanding Officer asked him one day why he chased women, Khan's reply was intimately revealing. He confessed it was because Western men discriminated against him because of his race, so, as he put it, "I pay them out by winning all their desirable women". And the insecurity didn't end there.
Despite their passionate beginnings, Prince Aly's bitterness seeped into his marriage with Joan Yarde-Buller. The Prince became more and more convinced that Joan's hoity-toity English aristocrat friends looked down on him—which, hey, they very well might have. This, as well as his philandering, drove a deeper wedge between them.
So why exactly were women so into Prince Aly? One reason is downright scandalous. As a young man, the zealous lover traveled to Cairo and spent six weeks with a doctor who trained him in imsák, an ancient Arabic art...of love. Naughtily enough, the doctor taught Khan how to control his muscles so that he could resist climax as long as possible.
As much as Khan loved the ladies, the ladies loved Khan. His looks, charm, and bedroom talent made him a bit of a conquest for women, and not just any women. Prince Aly had a noted type: "respectable" society ladies, who he liked to chase down ruthlessly, no matter the cost or how many enemies it made him. And his next target was a big one...
Starting in the late 1940s, Prince Aly became obsessed with the Hollywood "Love Goddess" Rita Hayworth. When her blockbuster film Gilda came out in 1948, Khan watched it and fell in love at first frame, especially during Hayworth's famous "Put the Blame on Mame" performance. He replayed it again and again, and swore he would have none but her. And well, whatever the Prince wants, the Prince gets.
Prince Aly got a lucky break: He found out that Hayworth was traveling to Europe at that very moment. His friend, gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell, swore she would throw an enormous party, seat him next to the starlet, and stage an introduction. The Prince was ecstatic to display all his skills of seduction to the screen siren—but he may not have realized how much baggage Rita had.
When Prince Aly met Hayworth, she had quite literally just ended her marriage with director Orson Welles, with whom she had a young daughter, and she was utterly heartbroken and depressed. She had even been thinking of leaving Europe early. Until, that is, Elsa Maxwell invited her out to a big bash. Aly had set his trap...and Hayworth walked right in.
Although some sources claim Hayworth wasn't instantly into Prince Aly Khan, the man seemed to have a supernatural power to win over even the most reluctant conquests. By the end of the night, they went home together to his place at the Chateau de L'Horizon, with Hayworth only returning to her hotel in the wee hours of the morning. Their flame was on.
Though Khan was confident in his powers with women, Hayworth was no easy catch. As the Prince pursued the noir starlet, so did other worthy husbands such as the Shah of Iran and Aristotle Onassis, one of the richest men in the world and the man who later married Jackie Kennedy. For some reason, Hayworth ignored them both and fell into Khan's arms.
In the beginning, Hayworth and Khan lived in a bubble of new love. In fact, it got straight-up mystical. According to lore, one day a fortune teller arrived at Hayworth’s hotel and insisted on seeing her. She told the starlet that she was “about to embark on the greatest romance of her life” and that if she gave in totally, she would “find happiness at long last". Note to self: Don't trust fortune tellers.
As all-consuming and passionate as Prince Aly's affair with Hayworth was, there were just two huge problems. First, he was still very much married to Joan Yarde-Buller. Second, Hayworth's high-profile status made their fling front-page news across the world, throwing Prince Aly's sordid personal life into print yet again. And then his family butted their heads in.
The Aga Khan deeply disapproved of his son's new obsession. The spiritual leader had more than a few affairs in his own youth, but he was mortified at the negative press the story was generating, and the way it exposed the immorality at the center of his clan. He pushed Prince Aly to break it off with Hayworth...but then the worst happened.
Just as things were really getting out of hand with the press, Rita Hayworth got pregnant. Even more scandalously, Hayworth decided to keep the child. To his (sort of) credit, the Prince stuck to her side and committed himself to the relationship, silencing all his father's doubts. Except, well, that meant another divorce trial.
Prince Aly was passionately in love with Hayworth at this time, and poor Joan Yarde-Buller saved the last of her dignity by trying to make a quiet exit from the whole mess. But she did get one revenge. Although she left without much of a peep to the press, Joan took the Prince for a whole lot of money, securing herself a comfortable life post-Khan. Chin up, Joan.
The promiscuous Khan seemed completely "meh" about the disintegration of his first marriage. In fact, he planned his second marriage to Hayworth for just a couple of weeks after his divorce to Joan—sound familiar? He also lavished Hayworth with gifts, including a $150,000 diamond necklace, leading up to the wedding. As for Hayworth? Well...
Before her nuptials, Hayworth started to feel uneasy. After all, Khan's reputation wasn't stellar. To add insult to injury, many of the Prince's snobby friends looked down on her for being a mere Hollywood star, while her own friends didn't think she had a chance in heaven to turn Khan into a loyal husband. So Hayworth struck out in a desperate way.
Hayworth was so uncertain about her impending royal marriage that she actually telegrammed her ex-husband Orson Welles, begging him to come see her because of an "emergency". She was so beside herself, Welles even rode on the back of a cargo plane to get to her as quickly as possible. But when he opened the door to her hotel, he saw a desperate sight.
In a scene that would have made Prince Aly's blood boil, Hayworth met Welles at her door dressed head to toe in lingerie, with candles and champagne completing the atmosphere behind her. "Here I am," Hayworth breathily told her ex, "Marry me". It was in defiance of all her loyalty to Prince Aly, and Welles' response changed the course of Hayworth's life forever.
Although Welles could see Hayworth was utterly unhappy, he saw no choice but to decline her offer. More than that, he also encouraged her to go through with marrying Prince Aly, believing that the situation was too far gone to stop. Even so, Welles later recalled that it was “just the worst marriage that ever could have happened. And she knew it!" Sadly, Hayworth didn't listen to her gut.
There was a rot at the center of Prince Aly's relationship, but you'd never know it by his exquisite confection of a wedding. The two-day affair took place on May 27th and 28th, 1949, where guests drank hundreds of bottles of champagne and ate pounds of caviar beside a swimming pool filled with gallons of cologne. To complete the picture, Hayworth cut her wedding cake with a glass sword and then scores of the Aga Khan’s followers kissed her feet.
On December 28, 1949, Hayworth gave birth to her child with the Prince, a daughter they named Yasmin; the little babe's full official title was "Princess Yasmin Aga Khan". Both Hayworth and Prince Aly doted on their girl, and for a brief time, it seemed like these crazy kids were going to make it. Just kidding, it didn't seem like that at all.
As the years passed, the Aga Khan's hesitant approval of his son's marriage—and his son—soon soured. Child or not, Prince Aly continued to womanize and gamble, while the Aga Khan felt that Hayworth was only in the union for peace and entertainment, not duty or love. Eventually, the supreme ruler confronted his son...and gave him a disastrous ultimatum.
In 1950, the Aga Khan demanded, on pain of his good name, that Prince Aly and his wife Rita Hayworth tour Africa to meet and listen to their followers. It didn't turn out great. For months, the Prince joyously rode around meeting adoring crowds, while Hayworth spent her days twiddling her thumbs. Except in the end, it was the nights that were the real problem.
While Khan fulfilled his diplomatic duties, he also found time to mix business with pleasure. He spent much of his off-time on the trip in the "company" of other women and away from his wife. So it should have been no surprise when, after one carousing evening, he returned back to their hotel to find Rita's bags packed. She left him and returned to the States immediately—but it wasn't the end of their drama.
After their disastrous trip, you might expect Khan to make an effort to save his marriage. Instead, in 1951, the Prince danced with another major Hollywood starlet, Joan Fontaine, in the very same club he and Hayworth had met. It was the final straw. When she found out, Hayworth officially filed for divorce under the grounds of “extreme cruelty". And that cruelty kept on coming.
Before his marriage with Hayworth even came to an end, Prince Aly had his sights set on yet another woman. Another Hollywood star, in fact—the beautiful Gene Tierney. Khan and Tierney met in Argentina while she was filming a movie and he was scouting racehorses, and their romance began shortly after. Somehow, it was his messiest dalliance yet.
Tierney was desperately in love, so when she and Prince Aly got engaged in 1952, she went right out and told the press. It was a fatal mistake. As a future spiritual leader, Aly absolutely needed to get permission from his father to marry. Well, the Khan didn't want another attention-seeking starlet in his life, and he turned his son down flat. Aly's reaction was...not good.
Prince Aly wasn't a man to give up on a beautiful woman, so instead of offering Gene Tierney marriage, he had a much more indecent proposal: She could simply become his mistress. Tierney, already on the verge of a mental illness, understandably exploded on the sleazy Prince, engaging in several screaming matches with him around Paris. This didn't go well for her, either.
In the end, Prince Aly didn't like it much when his side-pieces made his life difficult. Fed up with Tierney's (legitimate) waterworks, the rake simply upped and left her in a Paris Hotel. Shortly after, Tierney had a bona bide breakdown and returned to America, where her family admitted her into a mental institution for over a year.
Aly still had one loose end from his second marriage: His daughter Yasmin. Although Hayworth had custody and was currently raising Yasmin in the Catholic faith, the Prince was set on making her a Muslim. In a bid to convince Hayworth to bend to his demands, he offered his ex-wife a literal million dollars. Hayworth turned him down. Except she might have had good reason...
During the fallout of her marriage to the Prince, Hayworth started to develop chilling beliefs. As the Khan himself put it, "Miss Hayworth somehow got it into her head that either Aly or I myself might try to take her daughter away from her, indeed kidnap the child". Of course, the powerful family denied Hayworth's fears as delusions...but then again, they would.
Prince Aly's dramatic divorce from Hayworth once more became a press firestorm, and everyone was struggling to get snaps of their daughter Yasmin in particular. One day, a prying reporter crept into the house where Yasmin was staying with a caretaker, hoping to catch the heat-score in a candid moment. What he discovered shocked him.
Inside, the photographer found Yasmin and her half-sister, Rebecca, living in horrible conditions. The caretaker's house was dirty, and garbage covered the property. But that wasn't even the worst part. Later on, people discovered where Hayworth had been all this time—on a romantic getaway with her newest lover. Needless to say, the Prince was not happy.
With this kind of bad press following Prince Aly around, the Aga Khan wasn't just disappointed anymore, he was darn near ruined. Soon enough, people within the Khan's community began demanding that he abdicate, and the ruler had to call a special council to threaten excommunication to the malcontents and squash the crisis.
After his fling with Tierney, Khan found himself another high class partner: Bettina Graziani, a gorgeous model who hung out with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Lauren Bacall, and Humphrey Bogart. In a now familiar story, Graziani left her screenwriter boyfriend to run off with Khan, who convinced her to leave her career and settle down.
Khan had a taste for blood. Even when it came to hunting, the prince decided to do things to excess. As a young man, Khan went on hunting expeditions and bagged about 20 leopards and panthers, seven tigers, and three lions. Of course, that simply wasn't enough for the Prince, either. Unlike many others, he did this all on foot.
Like his father, Khan was a huge fan of horse racing. He rode from a very young age and, when he could, began to raise thoroughbred horses himself. Though his second wife Rita Hayworth wasn’t really into equine pursuits, she joined his club and bought a filly anyway. The horse went on to place second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, one of France’s most prestigious races.
According to world class trainers, Khan was one of the best horse breeders in the world. In fact, it’s likely that he could have made a career in horses alone. Champion trainer Noel Murless once said that, “It is probably fair to say that, with his experience of international racing, he was the best judge of collateral form in the world".
Before his time as a spy, the young prince decided that he needed a little adventure in his life, and joined the French Foreign Legion. The Foreign Legion is France’s most infamous military unit, which accepts entrants with foreign nationalities. For most of WWII, Khan served as a legionnaire in Egypt and the Middle East.
At a certain point, Khan joined the British Cavalry—a fitting place given his experience on horseback. During his military career, Khan participated in the Allied invasion of German-occupied France. It seems that, here, he found a healthy outlet for his love of danger and daring, and he received a colorful array of medals, including the Croix de Guerre.
Of course, all this sturm and drang had to reach a breaking point, and what a breaking point it was. Much to Prince Aly’s dismay, his father dealt him a cruel betrayal. Before the end of his life, the Aga Khan rewrote his will. In it, he decided to pass his title down to his grandson, rather than his troublesome son, for the first time in history. Oh, but it got more embarrassing than that.
The denial of Prince Aly's inheritance was a very public event. After the Aga Khan passed in 1957, aides called a press conference—complete with a lawn full of people and journalists—to read out the ruler's last will and testament. So yeah, Prince Aly Khan found out about Daddy's colossal snub at the same time as the rest of the world. Thanks, Dad.
Prodigal son that he may have been, the Aga Khan's decision still hurt Prince Ali tremendously. According to his fiancée, Bettina Graziani, the Prince “was never quite the same” after his father’s announcement, and he felt the whole press circus was a "public humiliation" for his sins. Yeah, that kind of Freudian nightmare would do anyone in.
The Prince's future wasn't all bad...for a bit. In 1958, soon after his father's passing, Pakistan appointed Aly as an ambassador to the United Nations. More than that, his girlfriend Bettina became his fiancee, and she was also newly pregnant. For a brief moment, it seemed that everything was looking up. However, a tragic twist of fate awaited.
In May 1960, Prince Aly was in France on United Nations business with his fiancee Bettina. As was his way, he found a little time for pleasure, and the pair were en route to a party. The Prince was behind the wheel on the narrow European roads, with his chauffeur riding in the back. Then, suddenly and without warning, he crashed headfirst into another vehicle.
The Prince sustained devastating injuries at the scene of the crash, and workers rushed him to the hospital to try to save him. It only ended in tragedy. Prince Aly Khan, the lothario of the 20th century, lost all the vim and vigor of his life that evening, passing almost immediately upon arrival at the age of 48. Yet even then, there was one more heartache to come.
By some miracle, Prince Aly's fiancee Bettina managed to survive the accident with only minor injuries. Still, this could not have helped her sorrow. Although her body was physically fine, the shock of the crash caused her to miscarry her and the Prince's unborn child. It was a final, tragic closing to Aly's drama-filled life.
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